Bad Latin on the body (ad nauseam)

by Jack Malvern,

taken from "World and Press",

No 11, June 1, 2017.

"Latin has had a renaissance in tattoo parlours as people seek to emulate celebrities."

In the words of Seneca, Errare humanum est. The Roman dramatist and philosopher might have added that while to err is human, it is particularly likely among tattoo artists who try to bluff while inscribing Latin. The dead language has had a renaissance in tattoo parlours as people seek to emulate celebrities such as David Beckham and Angelina Jolie, but the yearning for classical language has come at a cost.

David Butterfield, director of studies in classics at Queens' College, Cambridge, was delighted when he first noticed that Latin had become the lingua franca of skin decoration. He offered a trnsaltion service and supplemented his salary by charging small fees. However, he will announce in the next edition of Spectator Life magazine that he has decided ti stop, for fear of fuelling a terrible trend.

Although most people contracted him to ensure that their planned inscriptions were correct, Dr. Butterfield also had to let down gently those who were checking the ones they already had.

The lecturer, who has fielded about 1,500 inquiries since he began offering his services in 2007, said that although Latin lent gravitas, it was also tricky to get right. "When photographs were sent in for checking, it was often manifest that mistakes had been grafted in inch-high-letters," he said. "Latin is a language that leaves no wriggle room: when it is wrong, it is inescapably wrong, at best ungrammatical, atbworst gibberish."

Asked whether he had to be diplomatic when telling people about indelible errors, he said: "It was never worthwhile beating unduly about the bush: if a woman has got a self-referential tattoo describing her in the gender of a man, that needs raising, howerver gently the news is passed on. I would give the most optimistic reading of how their Latin could be interpreted, perhaps suggesting that it would pass for a school-boy's Latin in medieval Castle."

He noted that Beckham, who has ut amem et foveam (to love and cherish), had secured the correct translation, as had Jolie, whose belly is inscribed with quod me nutrit, me destruit (what nourishes me, destroys me).


He said that many people had made the mistake of trusting online translation services. He saw one attempt to translate the biblical verse: "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" that included English interspersed with the Latin: Ingredior per valley of umbra of nex. In other cases, a translation appeared to have been put through a spellchecker so that "Love is the essence of life" was not Amor est vitae essentia but "Amor est vital essentiaL". ...

Do you have any tattoos on your body?

Are they in Latin?

Do you speak Latin at all?

Which kind of tattoos do you love?

Or why do you not have any tattoos?


                                     Live Stylish!

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Write a comment

Comments: 26
  • #1

    A Cuban In London (Sunday, 18 June 2017 13:48)

    I do have a tattoo on the nape of my neck but with no writing. I'm safe! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  • #2

    Lisa Russo (Sunday, 18 June 2017 22:52)

    Very interesting, thank you. I took Latin many years ago, but would be able to offer much help in the way of translations to tattoo seekers...

  • #3

    Radi (Monday, 19 June 2017 03:12)

    No tattoos at all, but can understand Latin.

  • #4

    Alice (Monday, 19 June 2017 07:23)

    I do not have any tattoos. I am a person who quickly gets bored and likes change. It is difficult to change the tattoo or remove it, so I do not have it ;-)

  • #5

    Kathy Leonia (Monday, 19 June 2017 08:10)

    i like tatoos but on the other peoples;)

  • #6

    Renata Stradomska (Monday, 19 June 2017 10:01)

    I think I don`t like tattoo :-), but if it`s small it`s good.

  • #7

    yesimlehertelden (Monday, 19 June 2017 15:46)

    I like some small patterns, but I'm not thinking about having a tattoo..

  • #8

    La cucina di Molly (Monday, 19 June 2017 20:55)

    Non ho tatuaggi, però mi piace vederli su altre persone! Buona serata

  • #9

    Vika (Monday, 19 June 2017 22:37)

    Красивые тату)

  • #10

    Kathy Leonia (Tuesday, 20 June 2017 08:17)

    have a good day:)

  • #11

    Isy (Tuesday, 20 June 2017)

    Great post!

    <a href="">Ontem é só Memória</a> | <a href="">Facebook</a> | <a href="">Instagram</a>

  • #12

    Rena (Tuesday, 20 June 2017 14:51)

    Oh, ich habe weder ein Tattoo noch spreche ich Latein :) Aber das ist ja wirklich ein bemerkenswerter Trend. Ich bin einmal mehr fasziniert, was Du alles aufspürst. Danke für diesen Post und noch eine schöne Woche wünsche ich Dir!
    xx Rena
    <a href=""></a>

  • #13

    Gil Zetbase (Tuesday, 20 June 2017 20:52)

    Wonderful post!
    Have a nice evening!
    Gil Zetbase

  • #14

    gigieats (Tuesday, 20 June 2017 21:53)

    I would NEVER get a tattoo in another language! With my luck it would say something STUPID or RANDOM - lol! But I guess, it would work with my personality! LOL!

  • #15

    Vasundhara Agarwal (Tuesday, 20 June 2017 23:15)

    Interesting post

  • #16

    Cátia Rodrigues (Tuesday, 20 June 2017 23:40)

    Very cool!

  • #17

    peppylady (Dora) (Tuesday, 20 June 2017 23:40)

    I don't have any tattoo. I never but much thought as a statement I would make with written word...But I thought of getting a small broom...which to me mean..."Swept away injustice"...
    Coffee is on

  • #18

    Rena (Tuesday, 20 June 2017 23:48)

    Thank you very much.

  • #19

    Beauty Unearthly (Wednesday, 21 June 2017 01:11)

    Excellent post (as always)!Thank you very much :)

  • #20

    Jana Zimmermann (Wednesday, 21 June 2017 05:42)

    Guten Morgen, ja, ich habe auch drei Tattoos, aber nicht so groß. Ich hätte gern mehr, aber es ist ja auch immer eine Geldfrage. Ich wünsche Dir einen schönen Tag. Liebe Grüße Jana

  • #21

    Kathy Leonia (Wednesday, 21 June 2017 08:25)

    have a sunny day:)

  • #22

    Joanna (Wednesday, 21 June 2017 12:18)

    I don't have tatoos. Great post!


  • #23

    Anita (Wednesday, 21 June 2017 13:13)

    I do not have any tatoo
    I dislike it, thank you for sharing great post

  • #24

    speedy70 (Saturday, 24 June 2017 18:54)

    Molto interessante!!!

  • #25

    Vasundhara Agarwal (Sunday, 25 June 2017 23:47)

    Interesting read! lovely blog dear :)

  • #26

    Lindsey (Friday, 21 July 2017 19:14)

    Oh gosh, you always hear horror stories of people getting bad tattoos in other languages. I had not thought it was so common in Latin, though! (It seems to happen frequently with Chinese letters.) Very interesting! I have no tattoos, currently. And would be terrified to get one in a language I didn't speak! :)